[Ed. bumped to top, news continues below]
Much like the San Diego bay fireworks display last night everything in Portland Trail Blazer Land (and on this site) has gone KABOOM in 18 seconds. Reports are flashing all over the interwebs that the Minnesota Timberwolves have agreed to a two-year, $5 million deal with former Blazer shooting guard Brandon Roy and offered a four-year, $45 million deal to Nicolas Batum, Portland's starting small forward and prize restricted free agent. Discussion is hopping in the threads underneath both of those stories. Those comments, Twitter, and the e-mail inbox are exploding with questions about these potential deals. Here they are, along with the best answers we can give.
Can the Timberwolves afford to make both offers, totaling $16 million plus on their salary cap?
No, not right now they can't. They have players on short-term contracts. Martell Webster, Brad Miller, and Chase Budinger are up this year. Darko Milicic is guaranteed this year but not fully the year after. Milicic could be amnestied, Webster, Miller, and/or Budinger bought out or waived. Without knowing how much they could negotiate on those buyouts or whether they'd be claimed off of waivers, it's impossible to know how much space the 'Wolves could clear. If they got away scott-free on all four contracts they'd clear about $17 million in space, but that's not going to happen. Best guess would be around $10-11 million. Then again, they could trade away one or more of those assets for little or nothing in return, freeing space in the process.
You'd have to look at the sum and structure of the Batum and Roy offers to see exactly how much the Timberwolves would need to shed. It'd be painful to clear a full $17 million but they might be able to get close with the right moves and a little help from other teams.
With all the options open to him, why would Roy go to Minnesota?
Opportunity, first and foremost. He'll be able to start there. He's also playing alongside generous point guards in Ricky Rubio, Jose Juan Barea, and/or Luke Ridnour. He'd be playing for Rick Adelman, an offensive coach. At the same time he won't be expected to carry the franchise or provide instant rings. If anything, that's Kevin Love's job. Low stress, high opportunity...sounds like a nice situation for a guy coming back after injury.
Why in the world would Batum want to go to Minnesota?
Look, it's to Batum's advantage to get the highest offer possible, either to obtain an offer sheet or to get the Blazers to make the best possible deal in lieu of accepting said offer sheet. He holds all the cards right now. He'd be stupid not to play them. Once he's committed to an offer, the teams involve hold all the cards and he's powerless. He and his agent have to move now and have to move decisively. In six days the fun is over...or at least gets harder to sustain.
Batum also has reasons to like Minnesota. As is true for Roy, he'll get an opportunity there. He likes playing with Roy and is likely to benefit from Rubio and Adelman as well.
But really, it doesn't matter how much he wants or doesn't want to go to the Timberwolves. That decision is up to the Blazers unless Batum is willing to risk playing on a cheap, one-year contract when all of that money is before him right now. He'd have to really hate Portland to do that.
It appears both Batum and Roy Hibbert could have live offer sheets on the three-day clock at the same time. The Blazers can go over the cap to retain Batum but can't go over the cap to sign Hibbert. What happens if Hibbert inks his offer sheet ten minutes later than Batum? Three days later the Blazers have to match Batum's offer. Indiana doesn't have to match for ten more minutes. Does Batum then count against the cap first, making it impossible for the Blazers to sign Hibbert?
OK, until someone in authority in the NBA tells you differently, just STOP. It's not that complicated. The Collective Bargaining Agreement says three days. Common sense says that means "by the end of the third day", not exactly 72 hours later to the second. This is pretty easy to figure out because the consequences would be dire if it weren't true.
The Players Union would scream bloody murder if a ten-minute technicality cost Roy Hibbert a max contract offer. How is he going to make up that money? For the last two weeks he's been sitting with a deal waiting to be executed. Granted that deal is not allowed by the letter of the law but everyone knows how the moratorium works. Once Hibbert has verbally committed to that offer he's chased off other suitors. Those other suitors are then free to offer dollars elsewhere. That's good for the players, for the teams involved, and for the league.
The atmosphere would change if a ten minute difference could invalidate the offer given Hibbert. He thought he had a signed offer sheet. Now it can't be executed. He's at back at square one again. But the moratorium is over, the first round of free agent offers has been made and accepted...many of his opportunities and much of the cash is gone. He's not just getting the second best possible offer now, he's maybe down to twelfth. He's going to be underpaid through no fault of his own. In fact it would be Indiana's fault for waiting exactly 71 hours and 55 minutes to match his deal! His own team could use that ten minutes to deny him the best compensation possible and force him to take a lesser deal. That's a broken system, one that wouldn't be tolerated.
Furthermore if the ten-minute technicality mattered, front offices wouldn't be free to concentrate on offers and players, they'd be obsessing over timing and massive, million-dollar games of chicken with each other. They'd be worried about how fast their internet connections are, about who opened what e-mail in what order at the league office, what time zone teams/players/agents operate in...it's ridiculous. This would subvert the whole purpose of the signing period: to sign players.
Needless to say, it would also kill things for the fans. Is that offer valid? Is it not? Can somebody tweet when they pressed the "send" button? Who would know?
If anything, the league would probably not allow a doubtful offer to be made in the first place. There would be provisions against it, much as there are against trading protected draft picks that could potentially belong to another team. They'd prefer disallowing a potentially invalid offer to coming back three days later and saying to the player and the offering team, "Ooops!"
All of this worry goes away if you simply say that all contracts and offers inked on the same day are simultaneous, taking effect at the close of the day in the order most advantageous to the cap space of the teams involved. Until I hear differently, that's how I'm going to interpret what we know of the three-day rule in the CBA. Stranger things have happened, I suppose, but my mind would be boggled if the league, teams, and players allowed this kind of time-foolery to rule the day.
OK, so is Nicolas Batum worth $11 million per year to Portland?
That depends on their direction. Since the close of last season we've been talking about the the "reload versus rebuild" thing. The line between the two has only gotten more stark as the summer has progressed.
The Blazers took a couple players in the draft who might not have been the most NBA-ready but who could pay dividends at rare positions down the line. That seems to indicate a rebuild. On the other hand they also lack centers and point guards right now, so maybe it's a desperate gamble at a reload. Personally I think the former...they're willing to wait on Damian Lillard a little and Meyers Leonard a lot, hoping to hit the jackpot.
This free agency period is going to force the choice and show what they were thinking. If they do get Hibbert then they almost have to keep Batum, else they'll be scrambling to replace his talent. The cap will be too full to get a prime free agent, the draft picks too low to hope to draft one. But if they miss out on Hibbert, this team has a ton of holes still. They're far closer to starting over than becoming great. Spending $11 million per year on Batum won't make them great, but it'll put them in nearly the same cap bind...closer to that prime free agent territory with slightly better draft picks to look forward to down the road but still hanging by a thin thread.
If the Blazers don't get Hibbert they'd probably be better off letting Batum leave at that price, but then they'd be committed to a near-complete reshuffle. They'd have to go cheap and short on players this year to preserve any cap space for next summer. They'd be looking at a high draft pick next year. But they'd have a hard time convincing LaMarcus Aldridge that they were spending his prime years well, or that they were going to turn it around before his contract expires.
It's possible the Blazers have an ace up their sleeve somewhere, a Plan C that's going to amaze us all. I can't guess what that could be. Unless it comes to fruition, we're probably looking at a couple events in the next week and a half that will set Portland's course for years to come. Will we see the big swing and the accompanying big paychecks, or will the Blazers have to shrug, stick their money back in their pockets, and put the nose to the grindstone for the long haul?